Heart of Darkness

by Christopher Lovejoy on July 21, 2010 · 3 comments

When you interact with me, you have a sense of promise and possibility to uphold. When you interact with me, you feel an obligation to uphold it.

If you interact with me, and I deliberately undermine, negate, ignore, or dismiss your sense of promise and possibility, you feel diminished. You feel invisible. Like you don’t matter.

If I impose an expectation on you, I undermine your sense of promise and possibility; I brazenly and mistakenly presume to know what is good for you, what is better for you, what is best for you.

If I deliver an expectation that contains a negative judgment of you, I negate your sense of promise and possibility, presuming to know that your promise is barely, rarely, or only somewhat worthy of my attention.

And if I deliberately ignore or dismiss your expectations, I ignore or dismiss your sense of promise and possibility, while holding on to the pretense that you no longer matter.

Our Burden of Shame

Too much of what we say and do relies on the approval of others.

We feel constrained by it. We feel restrained and restricted in what we think we can say or do.

Because of this lack of freedom, many of the expectations we carry around with us remain hidden from ourselves in a heart of darkness.

The accumulated shame that we feel in not being worthy, in not being good enough, in not being competent enough to decide for ourselves, takes its toll on us, and emerges out of the darkness in the form of imposition, negativity, and invalidation.

This is truly, madly, deeply, a sad state of affairs – all the more so when we realize that each and every one of our interactions contains, at the very least, one expectation.

To relieve or conceal our burden of shame around failed expectations, we believe we can impose, negate, and invalidate on mere appearance alone.

We believe we can form impressions of someone’s behavior or conduct, and on that basis alone, make snap judgments about the worth or competence of that person.

These presumptions only serve to add to the burden of shame that humanity carries around inside the black heart of its twisted soul.

We see a world plagued with so many problems it defies belief. We see a world (if we’re willing to take a few moments to look) that is so full of hardship, conflict, and suffering it makes us wonder how we endure.

As a result, we resist change with all our might, to the point of exhaustion, and to the point where many have decided it’s no longer a problem to swim in a sea of mediocrity.

In light of this exposure, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that humanity is a burdened, beleaguered species, in a condition deserving of our contempt and condemnation.

A General Procedure

Positive change starts with you, me, the individual, in a faceless world of bewildering complexity, complication, and corruption.

We hear it again and again: “be the change you wish to see” (and make Ghandi proud of your efforts).

A heart of darkness is made light with transparent boundaries and with the intention to carry the promise of love and wisdom in the light of truth.

One way to do this – a way that I currently find compelling and useful – is to calmly, quietly, steadily, kindly, or gently expose the hidden meaning of negative expectations in all of my interactions: to accept (acknowledge and experience) the darkness of a shameful humanity; to identify and expose this darkness, calmly and mercifully, in the light of truth; and to hold my ground and stay positive for as long as this is necessary.

My commitment to follow this general procedure has already bore fruit.

I’ve learned to maintain a certain mental and emotional posture when I enter any kind of interaction or relationship – a flexible posture of readiness and willingness that would carry the above procedure in mind.

I’ve learned to stay in touch with my primal sense of dread and expect the unexpected in my daily interactions with others; to turn the tables on my primal sense of dread, making it my servant rather than my master, and have it serve me up with insights.

I’ve learned to beware and respect the unusually sensitive nature of spiritual beings in human form to having their long-standing, deep-rooted pockets of shame triggered at any moment, for any reason, by the slightest, most delicate implication or connotation.

I’ve learned to accept that my power to expose others to love in the light of truth can make some people very uncomfortable, to the point of being frustrated, aggressive, and hostile, even if it’s not my intention to do so.

A Quick Aside

When I think about it, I am amazed by the sheer number of relationships that we can experience and enjoy:

  • with significant others
  • with parents or children
  • with brothers or sisters
  • with relatives or surrogates
  • with elders, respected or not
  • with friends or neighbours
  • with friends or acquaintances
  • with lovers and other strangers
  • with strangers in public places
  • with strangers at public events
  • with partners or colleagues
  • with customers or service providers
  • with clients or service professionals
  • with landlords or tenants
  • with teachers or students
  • with professors or students
  • with doctors or patients
  • with lawyers or clients
  • with coaches or clients
  • with trainers or trainees
  • with supervisors or employees
  • with managers or supervisors
  • with executives or managers
  • with union leaders or members
  • with superiors or subordinates
  • with authorities or celebrities
  • with vendors or suppliers
  • with buyers or sellers

I’m sure that you can come up with many more types of relationships, which bring with them many kinds of interactions, which potentially provide you with many kinds of conflicts and challenges in your communications, not to mention your expectations.

You could pick any one of these types of relationships and explore their dynamics in light of what I’ve written so far. I’m particularly interested in exploring, examining, and exposing the three challenges I mentioned in my post, Quicksilver Challenges (which I’ve reiterated below).

Is this worth my time and effort?

There might be some question as to whether it’s worth the time and effort to focus attention on consciously meeting challenges in communication that are slippery and potentially distressing or frustrating.

You have every right to ask (and I respect you for asking it): is it really that essential to my path of personal fulfillment? To my happiness? To the fulfillment of my relationships?

I have a confession to make: I’m not entirely sure that it is.

It might be.

But then again, it might not.

But until I make the attempt, I will never know. I sense that it is, but until I know for sure, I cannot assume that it is or it isn’t worth my time and effort. Or yours.

Here again, for ease of reference, are what I’ve called the three quicksilver challenges:

  1. deal effectively with attempts to impose expectations on you
  2. deal effectively with expectations that contain negative judgments
  3. deal effectively with attempts to invalidate your expectations

I feel that I owe it to my readers to shed light on these challenges.

To make them real to you. To make them as clear as crystal. To justify the time and effort that I spend on them; to justify the time and effort that you spend on them.

Have you ever had an interaction with someone that left you with a vague sense of betrayal or with a lingering feeling that you had just been demoted or devalued?

Have you ever thought, “I wish I had said this”, and then wondered, in words to this effect: “where was my calm, steady sense of righteousness when I needed it?”

I have.

Many times.

Too many to mention, in fact.

Are you like most people, and brush it off as “just a part of life”? Are you like most people, and put it down as “someone having a bad day”?

When the world, and life, weren’t so complex and complicated, we could harbor the illusion of making these assumptions with impunity.

But the world has changed. I believe it’s time to call these assumptions into question. They might prove to be more dubious, more often than not, than we’ve been willing to admit.

In Part 2 of Heart of Darkness, I call these assumptions into question by taking a close look at what I call the quicksilver challenges, with examples from a period in my own life.


Insight Hunter July 21, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I’m not sure I see the connection of misplaced expectations with the limitations of humanity. Hardwired predispositions to greed and tribalism is what I would consider the heart of darkness that plagues mankind.

Expectations do keep one from being him or herself. It creates inauthentic people, but being an individual is a subjective value, and may not be for everyone.

Concerning the general procedure, I did a similar exercise years ago in an attempt to be authentic. Every belief would be closely examined and thought of critically. Every value would be my own, and not one some else wanted for me. There was to be no self-deception. This was also done later with past issues to make sure there were nothing in the past created hang ups today. Generally, these type of exercises are helpful.

I think it does seem worth the time for you to do it, because obviously you have some discomfort with the the idea of expectation, and it is best to resolve that. If the reader has that as well, it would be good for him or her. The process should neutralize most of the negativity associated with interactions and is beneficial in that way.

The idea of brushing it off is very worthwhile I think. I can say that a lot of the small negative interactions I have with people do not bug me at all or only temporarily. The effort it would take to change somebody’s expectations of me is not worth the trouble for me. Let them think what they like. I don’t care. If it is with people you are close to, then these things, if they bug you, should be confronted. If it doesn’t bug me, I won’t bother. You cannot control what people think and make sure they’re expectations of you are reasonable, but you can make sure you do not allow those unreasonable expectations to bug you.

Also, your post was concise, organized, focussed and well-expressed.

Christopher Lovejoy July 22, 2010 at 7:27 am

The heart of darkness is a metaphor for the absence of love in the light of truth at the heart of humanity. The darkness at the heart of humanity is dispelled with love in the light of truth, which arises from a sense of worthiness.

If I feel worthy, then I am ready, willing, and able to give and receive love. The expectations that we have of ourselves and of others are mere reminders of what we need to feel worthy of ourselves and of each other so that we might love and be loved. In the absence of love, there is imposition, negativity, invalidation – all manifestations of a heart of darkness that arise inside our expectations.

The tribal reality is a condition of humanity. We see it in high schools, corporations, and social media. There is nothing wrong with it per se, but becomes problematic when it ceases to be adaptable and sustainable. Greed, I believe, is one manifestation of this failure. There’s a desperate quality about greed, a desperation reflecting a breakdown between the individual and the supportive collective to which the individual once belonged.

My current interest with expectation lies, not with the idea of expectation per se, but with what lies inside it – with permission as well as imposition, with positivity as well as negativity, with validation as well as invalidation. How deep and how far would I like to go with bringing clarity to these matters, both spiritually and practically? I’m not yet sure. But I do know this: striking a balance between the aforementioned opposites is key.

As a practice, “brushing it off” might be useful, but if a negative expectation is bug-like, it might give you a nasty sting, or it might have the habit of coming back again and again, or it might take up residence in your mind or heart. I think it best not to underestimate the power of bugs. But then again, a quick and easy brush-off could serve you just as well. I think that each expectation is best dealt with on an individual basis, while keeping in mind the larger situational and relational context from which it arises.

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